Friday, September 18, 2009

Maple Scholars look into Amish community's use of local grief center

Goshen College 2009 graduate Melissa MacGregor (left) and senior Leah Yoder (right) teamed up with Adjunct Professor of Social Work Carol Jarvis (center) this summer through the college's research program, Maple Scholars, to research the local Amish community's use of Ryan's Place, a local grief center.

GOSHEN, Ind. – Death and grief affects people from all types of communities, including the Amish community. Recently there have been a number of Amish who has sought out support from the local grief center, Ryan's Place. This unique relationship between the Amish and a social service agency like Ryan's Place led Goshen College Adjunct Professor of Social Work Carol Jarvis, to team up with 2009 graduate Melissa MacGregor and senior Leah Yoder to try learning more through the college's summer research program, Maple Scholars.

Maple Scholars is an eight-week program for students like MacGregor (Glen Ellyn, Ill.) and Yoder (Salem, Ore.) who are interested in researching a specific topic and working one on one with a faculty member.

Jarvis' dissertation research explored the ways in which grief centers, like Ryan's Place, are reaching out to diverse populations. "What is so fascinating about this particular project is that there must be a unique, special dynamic occurring to have the Amish go outside their community for the bereavement services that are offered at Ryan's Place," Jarvis said. "Identifying and describing this dynamic can be useful for other grief centers."

Ryan's Place is a nonprofit, nonchurch affiliated organization that offers hope and healing to all those who grieve, especially children. Started in April 1999 by Rex and Nancy Gleim following the death of their college-age son, Ryan, the center was meant to meet the unmet need of a place to assist people in moving through the process of healing. Now, Ryan's Place is providing a supportive environment where people can share the impact of death.

MacGregor and Yoder interviewed a wide range of community members including professionals, retirees, administrators, farmers, social workers and members of the Amish community about the use of Ryan's Place. All interviews were conducted separately and in a semi-structured fashion with eight questions. This style of qualitative research allowed for flexibility.

In order to respect the Amish who have participated with Ryan's Place, Yoder and MacGregor decided to have a communal gathering with food to provide a more comfortable setting to ask questions and engage in conversation. While home visits may have been more productive and effective, there was a need to be respectful and flexible, Yoder said.

MacGregor and Yoder spent time at the facilitator training to gain a deeper understanding of the grief process. "It's not about the hours, this is our project, our sweat and I want to see it accomplished," said Yoder. "We have done all the research, it is part of us, and I want to see it get published and presented." MacGregor and Yoder explained that it was hard not to get emotionally involved when it is so personal, hearing individuals' stories of death and grief.

"I'm going to be taking a lot away from this project," MacGregor said. The project has allowed the students to gain experience in interviewing as well as to become more confident, comfortable and familiar with grief.

At the end of the project, Yoder and MacGregor submitted a research paper explaining the results as well as ideas on how to improve Ryan's Place's services and how they can reach other communities.

In addition, the students and their professor will be submitting a proposal to present the findings of the study at next year's annual symposium of the National Alliance for Grieving Children in Cleveland, Ohio.

For more information on Ryan's Place visit

-By Julie Weirich

Editors: For more information about this release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Goshen College News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or


Goshen College, established in 1894, is a residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college's Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron's Best Buys in Education, "Colleges of Distinction," "Making a Difference College Guide" and U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Colleges" edition, which named Goshen a "least debt college." Visit



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